It’s inevitable: as soon as word gets out amongst your friends and family, people are going to start asking you to knit things for them, either as gifts or commissions.
Some people are perfectly reasonable about it, and ask politely while offering to pay you for supplies and your time. Others will be more demanding, clueless or rude, will ask for the impossible (“I want it made from alpaca, but make it machine washable, and here’s $10 for the supplies!”) or simply act dismissive about how much work actually goes into making items. It’s up to you to decide how to handle requests, of course, but just remember that it’s OK to say no.
I say no all the time. In fact, my personal position is that I don’t take any commissions, though I will make people gifts if I so choose. Is it harsh? Maybe, but it’s the way it has to be for me to be happy.
See, here’s the thing. A lot of people have no idea how much time and effort knitting actually takes. And while most people are happy to pay you for supplies, and some are even willing to pay a little extra for your time, there are very few people who would like to pay what my time is really worth. And I get enough of that in my career.
Commissions Cost More Than You Think
If you were making these items as part of a job, you’d have to make at least minimum wage. In New York state, where I am, as of the end of 2017 minimum wage for a company with fewer than 10 employees is $12 an hour. That’s still low for something that requires the time, focus, and skill of knitting or crochet, but let’s say I’m paying myself the minimum. On top of that, lets say a skein of yarn is $10. There’s a LOT of variation in yarn prices based on material, quality, and brand, but I like my math as simple as possible and 10 is a nice round number.
The most basic hat made with worsted weight yarn takes me about three hours if I am doing nothing else. It usually only requires one ball of yarn, as well. So that’s $36 for labor and $10 for supplies. I know there are brands out there who could get away with charging that much, but those are usually big name designers, and the hats usually aren’t plain.
If the hat has some kind of pattern to it – let’s say lace – that will increase the cost greatly. It might take me seven hours to make a complicated item. Assuming it’s still a single skein of yarn, that’s $84 for labor and $10 for fiber. A shawl could take 30 hours and require five balls of yarn — so we’re looking at $400. What about complex sweaters that take a few hundred hours? Do you want to pay me $2500 for a garment? As much as I could use that amount of money, I don’t know anyone who would pay it.
I know what you’re thinking. I don’t have to charge $12 per hour for labor. It’s true. I could donate my time and only make them pay for supplies, or lowball it at $5 an hour or something. But then I’d feel resentful, like I was being taken advantage of. And I don’t want to have bitterness toward the people I care about.
It’s Not Just Cost
There are non-monetary reasons, too. Knitting and crochet are like forms of therapy for me — I do them to escape. I don’t want it to have a deadline or feel like an obligation. Likely, I would start to hate doing it if I felt like I had to. That’s the point of a hobby. It’s something that’s just for you, that you do because you want to, not because there’s any sort of requirement. I want to make the projects that speak to me, out of the yarns I like to use, at my own pace, and I want to keep them when I’m done.
So if that makes me a heartless friend and a selfish knitter, so be it. I’ll still make gifts for people, and I’ll donate my excess goods, but I won’t take commissions. I’ve made a few exceptions – when my great aunt was dying of breast cancer, she asked me to make her some hats, and I was happy to oblige. But largely I have to say no.
Adapted from a post originally published in Persephone Magazine.